Monday, July 30 – Chekika –
We were supposed to meet Ranger Eduardo Echeverria at the end of SW 168th St. The Everglades National Park had closed the Chekika day-use park in 2013 and installed a gate across the road. We arrived early and parked our car at the edge of the turnaround road. A few white pick-up trucks were already parked there, but no one was to be seen. We waited for some time and then got out. As we walked into the middle of the turnaround, we saw a mass of springs, coils, and rusted steel wheels. The silhouette of a car and the dark remains of an intense fire were still visible. We took some pictures of the pile and of the ditches along the turnaround. The bright yellow gates were open. On one of the sections, someone had sprayed graffiti in black paint, ‘Free the Everglades.’ We got back in our car and entered Chekika again, like the sacred temple that it is.
The weather was humid and the sun hot as is usual at this time of the year. We drove along the familiar road. Not much had changed since 2014 when we were there last, even if the area is slated to be underwater according to the Everglades Restoration Plan. We passed the mango grove, still green, but the houses of the Rangers are now gone. We found the entrance point and parked our car at the gate. We walked toward the kiosk, which is in a lot more of a shamble than before. Everything was broken and empty cartridges were spilled around near the entrance door. As we moved away from the derelict building, we noticed a giant lubber grasshopper standing on a green rubber ball. On the ball, this creature looked as if the world belonged to him. Seeing our approach, he slowly retreated back into the nearby grass.
The road leading to the parking lot was flooded and we decided to take the other fork. We followed the pavement until it turned into an earthy path. The forest seemed closer than before, we could touch it and we felt that it could feel us walking in We grabbed dry palm fronds to poke the grass here and there. As we made our way in, we wondered when the last person walked by here. We spoke about the trees and the birds that interested us, but as there might have been snakes in the foliage, our conversation was intended more to alert animals that we were coming in. When we arrived at the clearing, heavy gray clouds were already occupying the sky. We took a series of videos and images. It looked familiar and strange at the same time. We were looking for the old artesian fountain when the rain started to fall. It was one of those heavy rains. We saw the fountain in the distance but when we heard the thunder rumbling, we decided to go back. The thunder intensified and we thought of waiting under the roof of the kiosk for the worst to dissipate, but that kiosk was never a welcome site. Our vehicle was close and we decided to continue. A truck arrived and parked next to our car. To our surprise, it was Eduardo wondering if we were okay. Soaked by the rain but surviving the visit, we were happy that Chekika had given up the secret of the fountain’s location.